By Katie Hill
Every day, my office receives hundreds of calls about the shutdown. And as each day passes, they become more and more dire. Most people don’t care about the politics at play here — they care about paying their rent and feeding their kids. This shutdown puts those basic necessities in jeopardy for more than 800,000 federal workers and thousands of others who rely on government services to survive.
I was elected to fight for the people of our community — to challenge the way things are done in Washington and make sure our government starts working for the people. That’s hard to do when the government is shut down. In fact, it’s the opposite — it can’t work for the people if it’s not working at all.
As of today, my freshman colleagues and I have been in office for 17 days. Over the course of those 17 days, I have heard from countless constituents on the impact of this shutdown on their lives.
These stories include Christy, a hardworking air traffic controller, veteran, and single mother of two who is now looking for a second job at night to pay her bills. She doesn’t know how much longer she can make it without a paycheck and still provide for her family’s basic needs. That’s her reality.
These stories also include Eric, a 17-year career employee at the Federal Aviation Agency. He wrote, “As an integral part of the nation’s air traffic control system, my focus has always been, and will always be, on safety.” That’s true for so many of the law enforcement officials, aviation specialists and firefighters who are affected by this shutdown. They’re focusing on our safety and in return they are not receiving pay for their work.
Federal prison guards like John have also reached out to my office to let me know about their economic turmoil. John is a law enforcement professional who is working to keep terrorists behind bars without pay during the day, and driving Uber after his shifts just to pay the bills.
Safe to say this isn’t how I envisioned my first few weeks in office. I am frustrated and angry. Angry that once again, Washington insiders are playing politics with people’s lives. Angry that hundreds of thousands of hard-working Americans are paying the price for a dysfunctional government. Angry that our government should be working for the people, and instead it isn’t working at all.
If the solution isn’t going to come from the White House, it has to come from us: the House and the Senate. After all, we are separate but co-equal branches of government who were elected to serve the people, not the president.
I call on my colleagues in the Senate, particularly the Senate Majority Leader, to join the House and do their jobs. Since I was sworn in, the House has passed more than six appropriations options that would reopen the government immediately and allow us to get to work on border security. These bills had already passed with an overwhelming, bipartisan majority in the Senate. Seems like a simple task for the Senate to vote on those same bills again. But Mitch McConnell won’t allow a vote, all because the president told him not to. It’s a political game, and working families and our most vulnerable Americans are the ones losing.
Trump and McConnell are doing exactly what people hate about Washington — playing games, party politics and pointing fingers instead of just doing their jobs. So instead of going back and forth and pretending like this is a fight over a “wall” that even the president admits will never be built, let’s focus on what’s important.
First, we need to reopen this government so policy negotiations don’t mean 800,000 people don’t get a paycheck, and thousands of others left wondering if they will be able to afford food next week. As lawmakers, we are bound to disagree. That’s actually one great thing about the legislative process — it allows us to have a robust conversation on tough issues and come up with solutions that work. But we can’t — and shouldn’t — shut down our government every time we disagree. If we give in on that key point now, it sets the expectation that shutting down the government any time we disagree in the future is OK. And it’s not.
Once that happens, I stand ready and willing to address the border security and immigration reform we need. We have to make progress on this issue, and we’re ready to come to the table, stop worrying about bickering over semantics, and get something done. We need strong borders. Period. Democrats and Republicans all want that. So what are we even arguing about? We’re not going to build a 2,000-mile wall because that won’t work and is a waste of money — and almost all of us know that and have known it all along. But we do need technology, increased personnel, DACA reform, solutions to the crisis in Central America that drives mass migration, and yes — we need physical barriers in places where they make sense.
For all of you who went without a paycheck this week, or who are lying awake at night wondering how you’re going to provide for your family, I want you to know: I see you, I stand with you, and I will continue to fight every single day until the Washington politicians start doing their jobs and make you the priority, too.
Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, represents the 25th Congressional District, which includes the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys.